Germany: Angry protest against cuts and job losses

Rostock city council passes most severe cuts in city’s history

Translated by Tanja Niemeier, cwi

The city of Rostock in eastern Germany is bankrupt. The budget deficit has climbed up to 90 million euro and the overall debt has climbed over the past years. In the face of this disastrous situation, the regional state, led by a SPD/Left Party.PDS coalition government, is threatening to take over the running and administration of the city’s budget. It is claimed that the only way to avoid such a scenario is implementing vicious social cuts.

As a result, all the major bourgeois parties have engaged in a competition on who will be the social cuts champion. After some infighting, they agreed to implement cuts worth € 40 million by 2009.

It was agreed that money should be taken from social and cultural institutions and projects, by implementing further cuts in wages as well as job losses and by carrying out further privatisation.

But in the eyes of the regional state, this is not enough: They want to see cuts worth € 80 million, twice the amount agreed by the city council. As a means to get the money, the state government want to sell off council flats.

"This is disgusting"

Socialist Alternative (SAV) and the youth organisation International Resistance led a joint campaign against cuts and encouraged others to join in, resist and take action.

Six hundred people followed the appeal by the public sector union ver.di and protested outside the town hall on February 1. Christine Lehnert, the SAV elected city councillor, got the warmest response of any speaker.

She described the planned cuts as anti-social and explained: "Instead of taking the money from women’s refuges or closing down community libraries, the money should be taken from the rich and super rich in this country. The increase in wealth of the 80 richest billionaires in this country would be sufficient to guarantee free education for all, ranging from free kindergarten and nursery places to a guaranteed and decent apprenticeship as well as free university education."

The arrogance of all representatives of capitalist parties was telling. In the council meeting, they decided to implement far-reaching cuts for disabled and homeless people. After the meeting they gave each other flowers for a "job well done". Prices for theatre tickets will go up for the majority of people while so-called "honorary tickets" which enable city councillors to visit the theatre for free, remained untouched.

Christine Lehnert commented: "This is disgusting. If you had some sort of social conscience left, I would say: Shame on you!"

Role of the Left Party.PDS

Alongside Christine, the local Left Party.PDS councillors also opposed the budget proposed by the main bourgeois parties and the Rostock mayor. However, it was typical of them not to question the whole concept of the cuts. They wanted to see "sensible" cuts. They were upset that they were excluded from the unofficial coalition of all the capitalist parties which presided over the cuts. Instead of going into the offensive, the vice leader of the Left Party’s council group complained that politically he had never been so "humiliated".

In a very moderate tone, they tried to find the real reasons for the disastrous situation in Rostock: less and less money from the federal and regional governments, while at the same time, the city council has to carry more financial burdens.

While this is correct, they did not respond to Christine Lehnert´s proposal of putting pressure on the regional state government. She argued for the LeftParty.PDS to leave the regional government and to no longer carry out a policy of cuts in social spending.

It is the same old story: The local Left Party is "unhappy" about the cuts while their own party is prescribing those cuts on a regional level.

It is unfortunate but true to say that it is therefore not possible to organise effective resistance with the Left Party.PDS of today.

Next steps?

SAV is organising a rally later on in February which will discuss the next steps to defy these attacks.

The local chair of the public sector union ver.di will be present at the meeting. The SAV is proposing to organise a broad "resistance conference", made up of representatives of all those affected by social cuts. Shop stewards and other representatives from work places would have to play an important role in order to make this a success. A day of strike of protest on a city wide level could bring together different parts of the working class who are currently faced with attacks on their living standards. Public sector workers in local government, for example are currently faced with an attack to increase their working week. Such a day of strike and protest should raise the need for higher taxation of the super rich and the big companies. This money could then be used to finance a shorter working week but also to employ new staff. The money can also be used to pay for an increased public funding of education, public transport as well as an increase in funding for social projects.

The original German language version of the article can be read on www.sozialismus.info

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